This guide outlines how to:
- Plan for the prevention of chemical spills, including implementing practical controls to ensure chemicals are appropriately stored and handled
- Respond to spills when they occur, including risk assessment, spill containment, clean-up and reporting
Industrial chemicals in Australia - Source: environment.gov.au
REMEMBER: Under the WHS Act, an uncontrolled chemical spill or leakage is classed as a dangerous and notifiable incident. The regulator in your state or territory must be notified in writing as soon as possible following a chemical spill.
Who Should Use This Guide to Chemical Spill Management?
This guide applies to any workplace that stores or handles hazardous chemicals onsite. These can include flammable, corrosive or toxic liquids or compressed (pressurised) gases.
The guide is for people who work in industries such as the following examples:
- Chemical manufacturers storing and handling industrial chemicals
- Office buildings storing heavy-duty cleaning products
- Automotive businesses storing motor oils and fuel
- Farming businesses using and storing fuel and agricultural chemicals
- Fuel service stations storing petrol, diesel, oil and gas
- Food manufacturers producing milk products, fruit juices, etc.
- Fast food restaurants and outlets using and storing cooking oil
- Research laboratories storing and handling hazardous chemicals
A chemical spill kit is a vital component of a chemical spill response plan
What Causes a Chemical Spill?
Accidents happen. But some chemical spills are accidents waiting to happen. Which is why prevention is one of the most important parts of your workplace’s chemical management program.
But spills occur in even the most well-prepared workplace environments. Which is why a tailored chemical spill response plan involving appropriate spill containment and clean-up equipment is also essential.
Developing and promoting an understanding among all workplace personnel of why chemical spills happen and what causes spill accidents to occur is a logical way to approach chemical management.
What are Contributing Factors to Chemical Spills in the Workplace?
Consider the following workplace scenarios where an avoidable chemical spill occurs due to various possible contributing factors.
|SPILL SCENARIO||POSSIBLE CONTRIBUTING FACTORS|
|A container of hazardous chemicals stacked on top of several other identical containers falls to the ground and ruptures, spilling an uncontrolled quantity of dangerous chemical that presents a significant threat to the health and safety of personnel and harm to the environment.||
|An uncontrolled quantity of a hazardous chemical is spilled on the workplace floor during a decanting process transferring the chemical from one container to another, endangering the health and safety of the personnel involved and potentially harming the environment.||
What is Bad Practice Chemical Storage and Handling?
The following images demonstrate how not to store and handle hazardous chemicals.
How not to store chemicals - Bad practice examples related to storing and handling liquids that could pollute the environment. Source: EPA Victoria
What is Good Practice Chemical Storage and Handling?
The following images demonstrate best practice examples of how to store and handle hazardous chemicals.
How to store chemicals - Good practice examples related to storing and handling liquids. Source: EPA Victoria
Why Implement Chemical Storage, Handling and Spill Management?
Activities undertaken by state governments, including the various Environmental Protection Authorities (EPAs), have identified the potential impacts on air, water and land posed by liquid chemical storage, handling and spill management at industrial locations across the country.
For example, in New South Wales, an environmental compliance program completed in 2006 and focusing on the activity of liquid chemical storage, handling and spill management reported several findings:
- Poor chemical management practices contributed to several major environmental incidents and premises have been prosecuted in relation to chemical transfer and storage.
- Earlier audit programs made it clear that licensees (of workplaces licensed to store and handle hazardous chemicals) needed to improve their awareness of the risks relating to the management of chemicals.
- Licensing changes were necessary to ensure licensees are required to develop, implement and regularly update emergency response plans.
- Licensing changes were needed mandating suitable control measures such as high/low alarms, control valves and one-way valves on vessels containing liquid chemicals
The program produced three reports - including a compliance report and a review of best practice and regulation - that facilitate knowledge sharing between various regulators, including local councils, the workplace health and safety regulator and state departments.
A suite of educational and training resources were also developed, including Storing and Handling Liquids: Environmental Protection trainer's manual and kit to “help industry and local government to better manage environmental, legal and safety responsibilities relating to liquids.”
The kit includes sections on legal obligations, site management, incident management and spill response
How to Define a Minor or Major Chemical Spill
What is a Minor Chemical Spill?
A minor chemical spill is classified as a spill that can be effectively cleaned up by an individual person or work crew. For example, a few millilitres of cleaning chemicals are spilt when decanting into portable containers. Although the risk from industrial strength cleaning chemicals can be high, if the volume is small enough to be easily neutralised and removed, then it is considered a minor spill.
What is a Major Chemical Spill?
A major chemical spill is far more serious and generally necessitates the immediate evacuation of the area concerned, if not the entire premises. For example, the uncontrolled release of flammable liquid fuel from a container in an unventilated, enclosed area. If the volume of escaping fuel and subsequent fumes becomes large enough, the risk of ignition and harm to people and property becomes high.
Consider an incident as a major spill if the following criteria can be applied:
- QUANTITY- The spill involves more than:
a) 100 millilitres or 10 grams of a highly hazardous chemical (such as a carcinogen); or
b) 1 litre or 100 grams of a volatile or flammable solvent, reactive or corrosive (acid or base) liquid or solid.
- HAZARD- The hazardous chemical:
a) presents an immediate threat to human health and safety or the environment;
b) is unknown; or
c) is an immediate fire hazard, such as an uncontrolled gas leak.
- LOCATION- The chemical is:
a) Outside the premises or the area where the substance is generally handled; and/or
b) There are no suitably trained personnel available to clean up the spill.
NOTE: Some especially dangerous substances, such as mercury or highly corrosive acids, are considered as major spills at volumes less than 100 mL.
Use a Decision Tree Flowchart to Identify Minor or Major Spills
If a chemical spill occurs in your workplace or somewhere else, refer to the chemical spill decision tree flowchart to step through the process of deciding if the incident should be classified as a minor spill or a major spill.
How to Respond to Chemical Spills
Responding to liquid chemical spills quickly and effectively is crucial if you are to minimise potential harm to people and the environment. Once you have determined whether the incident is a minor or major spill, you can move forward with your incident management and spill response plan.
A major spill may constitute an emergency and require urgent response and even the need for emergency services to attend the scene. A small-scale minor spill can generally be dealt with by onsite personnel. Whatever the severity of the incident, appropriate and adequate incident response is vital to ensure harm to people and the environment is minimised.
Poor incident management could, for example, lead to untrained personnel flushing spilt materials down stormwater drains, jeapordising the health of both people and the environment.
“Each site is different, and the issues and responses required will vary accordingly. The degree of incident planning that you need to undertake at your site will depend on the types of liquids that you store and the quantities.” EPA Victoria, Liquid storage and handling guidelines (2018)
Regulators such as the state government EPAs recommend your incident management plan follows a response process similar to the following sequence in the event of a spill.
|Contain the Spill|
|Stop the Spill|
|Clean-Up the Spill|
|Report the Spill|
Trust chemical management specialists STOREMASTA to help keep your workplace safe by working with you to:
- Conduct a risk assessment;
- Develop chemical management procedures; and
- Develop a chemical spill response plan tailored specifically to your workplace.
You should also download this FREE eBook - How to manage the risk of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace - detailing the risk assessment process, explaining how to assess each chemical hazard you encounter at work and how to decide on suitable control measures to eliminate or minimise the risk.